Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Letter of the Day | NIDS in limbo

Published:Tuesday | January 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM


A few days ago, the head of the National Identification System (NIDS) had a conference on e-government, based on the example of Estonia, the world's most advance digital country. She painted the very compelling scenario of a digital Jamaica, where we would soon have e-health, e-policing and i-voting. A digital paradise!

NIDS has been in the news for several months, and not always positively. In October, the Opposition challenged the legal framework of the project in the Supreme Court, claiming it contains several constitutional violations to the rights of the Jamaicans. The court will render its decision in a few months. If it rules in favour of the Opposition's claim, the whole project will be in jeopardy.

In the meantime, the Government received offers from three foreign companies: two French and one Japanese. The French companies have some very serious issues.

One of them is part of a list of firms sanctioned by the World Bank and, therefore, not able to compete for the NIDS project. Why, one wonders, did the Jamaican Government accept their proposal in the first place? Why didn't the IDB say anything, since they are supposed to oversee the process?

The other French company is also in deep and turbulent waters. In September, it was sued by none other than the Estonian government (how ironic!) for a whopping US$170 million (almost six times the NIDS budget). Estonia, the most advanced e-government in the world, stated that for several years, the company secretly and deliberately violated security clauses in their contract to provide e-cards, putting the identity of citizens at risk. They also claim that the company found out about a serious security flaw in the chips of the card and didn't notify the government for several months.

This same company, believe it or not, was banned two months ago in India by the largest ID project in the world (Aadhaar) because of security concerns, after they published an erroneous security report claiming the identity of 1.2 billion Indians had been breached. This terrible blunder prompted a very public apology in the Indian newspapers.

This information is no secret. What do our authorities plan to do about this situation? Will they go ahead with the project, even when the Supreme Court might rule the law unconstitutional?

Should they award it to a company sanctioned by the World Bank? Or to a firm banned by the largest identification programme in the world and sued by Estonia, Jamaica's role model for a secure e-government?

The future of the NIDS project is uncertain.


Kingston, Jamaica